WOODBURY COUNTY, Iowa — The first positive case of COVID-19 in the United States was confirmed on January 19th in Washington state. Almost two months later, On March 8th, Iowa announced its first 3 positive cases. It was just two weeks later that COVID-19 arrived in Woodbury County.
In the 6 months since that day, the Siouxland District Health Department (SDHD) has tested, tracked and traced the spread of COVID-19 in our community, while learning more about the novel coronavirus right along with the public.
In an exclusive sit-down with Siouxland News Reporters Vivian Rennie and Katie Copple, the SDHD discusses the data they've collected from the more than 5,000 positive cases in Woodbury County, the lessons they have learned along the way and what is next for the community.
THE DATAThe Siouxland District Health Department announced the first confirmed positive case of the novel coronavirus in a Woodbury County resident on March 20th and a lot has changed since that first report.
Once a positive test result is reported to the health department, the contact tracing process begins which is an important component of slowing the spread of the virus.
"We really feel like it's very important to make sure that if you are doing a COVID test, whether it's rapid or otherwise, that that actually gets reported because we have to be able to get those test results so that we can do contact tracing and some of the things that go along with that," said SDHD Deputy Director Tyler Brock.
In March and early April, the SDHD was only reporting a few positive cases a week. But that quickly changed. By mid-April, they were reporting triple-digit positive cases daily as outbreaks were reported in large local employers.
"The peak was the week ending May 3, and the number of cases we received notification in that week was 667. When we got about to the end of May, then we started seeing as it's kind of a little come down to 261 cases. And then over the course of the next few weeks, it declined gradually and over the course of the entire summer," Grieme said. "It just sort of hovered around that 70 to about 105 cases, and we just seem to begin, kind of a gradual increase over the last few weeks."
Throughout the summer, the SDHD was only reporting a handful of cases a day. Now that schools and businesses have reopened and Siouxlanders are spending more time in large groups and at large gatherings, cases are rising once again.
SDHD officials say that these latest cases are among the young adults and school-aged individuals.
I think it's been pretty obvious that a lot of young adult college-age type kids taught that that age range has been kind of at the center of this uptick.With more than 5,000 positive cases in Woodbury County, the SDHD has been tracking and analyzing the data, which they are now releasing publically.
This data breakdown includes which group of residents have been impacted most.
Woodbury County COVID-19 Distribution by Race (9/25/20)
"I think within Woodbury County, what we show is actually 70% of all those affected were Caucasian," SDHD officials said about the data. "Blacks are 10% Asian 10% and then we get down to just very small micro amounts is what it would be for that following that kind of that remaining 10%."
Woodbury County COVID-19 Distribution by Ethnicity (9/25/20)
In the 24 Woodbury County zip codes, almost half of all cases fall into two areas with half of the reported cases in the 51103 and 51104 zip codes.
Woodbury County COVID-19 Distribution by Zip Code (9/25/20)
The SDHD also breaks down the confirmed positive cases by gender with a close split between males and females.
Woodbury County COVID-19 Distribution by Gender (9/25/20)
When broken down by age, those in the 21-30 range, or young adults, make up more than 1,000 of the positive cases in the county. Following that group, the three groups that make up the bulk of the middle are spread out between ages 31-60.
Woodbury County COVID-19 Distribution by Age (9/25/20)
When looking at deaths, those above the age of 51 have been the hardest hit with nearly 75% of the reported deaths between ages 51-80.
Woodbury County COVID-19 Distribution by Age (Deaths) (9/25/20)
The Siouxland District Health Department releases the latest data every Friday on its website, keeping the public up to speed with how this virus is moving through the Woodbury County community.
LESSONS LEARNEDHealth officials aren't just fighting a global pandemic, but also the ever-changing information on how to treat and prevent the spread of COVID-19. The team at the SDHD has been working tirelessly to keep local residents informed while learning right along with them.
Right at the start, the county had a pandemic plan in place, which they used as a baseline for responding to the virus.
"I think that started some of the guidance with it," said Grieme. "8 months ago, we were kind of monitoring and at that point in time, we were waiting to see how it would affect the United States overall and more succinctly, when would we see the cases come up in the state of Iowa."
A lot has changed over the last 6 months, including the way the Siouxland District Health Department responds to COVID-19. One of their quickest implementations was a drive-thru testing site in downtown Sioux City.
We were one of the first counties to have a drive-thru community testing site.
While testing was important, so was contact tracing and health officials say that was one of their most challenging obstacles.
SDHD says if you've tested positive, it's extremely important that you answer your phone when health department officials call. They not only need to track each positive case, but also trace where exposures may have happened.
Staff would work for hours each day making calls to those who were sick and it took a toll on the staff's mental health.
"I think one of the biggest challenges we had with the staff was just keeping the mental ability," said Grieme. "Because in some cases those individuals would have a name on a list that they would interview and do the contact investigation and I think one of their mental health concerns is the fact that a number of days later, they would see that individuals name in the obituary section of the paper."
Now, 6 months in from when the first case was reported locally in March, they continue to learn more about this virus.
"It is not necessarily the age as people suspected," Grieme said. "They may be more adversely affected, but it is that 21-30 age that we are looking at creating the most of our cases."
The health department is also working closely with school districts to prevent outbreaks, evolving their methods the more they learn.
We do feel like the schools are the best equipped to identify the kids that are in school contacts."So if we do have someone that is COVID-positive and they have been at school during that infectious time period, we do feel that the schools are best positioned to know who did they sit by, what class were they in here, whats the lunch period look like, what's the bus situation look like," Brock said. "So we have worked with them very closely to identify those in-school contacts."
They've also changed the way they quarantine close contacts in schools to help prevent a teacher shortage. Now, if an educator has been exposed, they can still come to school if they are not showing symptoms while closely monitoring their health status. This is something that has also been implemented with healthcare professionals, first responders and emergency personnel.
Both Grieme and Brock say they are still learning about COVID-19 every day and are doing their best to keep the public informed.
I think it's important for the public to understand that we were learning as they were and we tried to do the best for the guidance that we could."We have done a lot of good things we have had a lot of struggles we have kind of run the gamut here at Siouxland District health and we have more ahead of us yet to learn and yet to accomplish," Brock concluded.
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SIOUX CITY, Iowa — In Mid-March, restrictions and business closures began throughout the tri-state area.
With more people staying and working from home during March and April, did that impact local crime rates for the first 7 months of the year?
Sgt. McClure thought the city may have seen a rise in domestic violence calls, but that wasn’t the case.
According to the data, those numbers didn't rise, but they didn't fall either.
"We anticipated possibly seeing an increase in disturbances and domestic assaults because a lot of times when people are stuck in a place together, that's when our interpersonal conflicts come out and we will see some more fights and arguments and stuff like that,” Sgt. McClure said. “Luckily, we didn't see a dramatic increase in domestic violence, and we saw similar rates to what we did the year before."
With any domestic violence call, the Sioux City Police Department does a thorough investigation.
“We continue to try and reduce any rates we can and have whatever effect we can on domestic violence and try to thoroughly investigate each case."
The department responded to an average of 36 domestic violence calls each month, with the highest number of calls coming in August and the lowest in February.
The most frequent calls are considered disturbances, with no clear pattern to establish a rise or drop during quarantine.
"What a disturbance is for us, if we get dispatched to a couple of people arguing or being loud, typically it's some sort of interpersonal conflict that doesn't result in an assault or someone doesn't want to pursue charges, then it may get written up as a disturbance,” Sgt. McClure said. “So, we get sent there as a peacekeeper, try to separate the parties, work out some sort of solution.”
While there was no obvious change in the data for those two areas of crime, there were two others where the Sioux City Police Department did see a significant decrease during the shutdown period.
"As we entered into quarantine mid-March, we saw some of the numbers, such as the residential burglaries and the thefts and the shoplifting start to decrease,” Sgt. McClure said. “And then once we were in the heart of quarantine in the April timeframe, this is when we saw a huge impact on a lot of these property crimes."
The department went from responding to between 20 and 30 residential burglaries each month to just five in April.
That was nice to see that decrease as well because it's a huge violation to have your house burglarized and it really destroys people and their sanctuary, their sanctum has been violated by somebody and their stuff stolen like that. There wasn't a rise in business burglaries either, just a slight drop in March and April.
"A lot of officers were out working pretty hard during the night to try and curtail a lot of that, so hopefully we were able to have some effect on that,” Sgt. McClure said about the department’s patrol. “But luckily we didn't see an increase during the lockdown that we suspected might have happened."
There was one other crime that saw a drop: Drunk driving offenses. This was a bit of a surprise to the department.
Taking a look at the data, 54 arrests were made in February, dropping to 24 in March and just 19 in April. When bars and restaurants began reopening in May, 34 were arrested.
"During the shutdown, the rates dramatically decreased and then as people have come out of quarantine and we've gotten into the summer, the rates have shot up,” Sgt. McClure said.
When asked about violent assaults like shootings and stabbings, McClure says the city hasn't seen a noticeable increase but states that it's a concern regardless and the department is working to reduce them as much as possible.
"We want to see those reduced because one, it's extremely dangerous for people to be shooting off firearms in the city and not taking into account for those rounds,” Sgt. McClure said. “We've been very lucky that someone innocent hasn't been hit and that we haven't had more serious injuries come out of a lot of these assaults."
Another issue on the minds of Siouxlanders is recent graffiti on public and well-known areas of town, like the Grandview Park Bandshell, that was tagged twice this summer. McClure said they haven’t seen a rise there either, but that the places that are being tagged with graffiti are more well known.
“A lot of the graffiti, vandalism is considered criminal mischief. Criminal mischief rates are holding steady,” he said. “It's just a lot of these events have gotten more attention because they are more prominent landmarks. And some seem to stem from the other controversies and protests that's coming out.
We are hoping that this doesn't distract from the legitimate message that a lot of people are trying to push and have their voices and concerns heard," Sgt. McClure continued."It's unfortunate that some people try to distract from that by vandalizing the bandshell or statue. These have been more culturally significant areas so it's getting attention a little bit more, but we are not seeing higher rates of vandalism than what we usually do."
McClure says these numbers are just preliminary and may be slightly different than what is officially reported to the FBI at the end of the year which will give a clearer picture of if the shutdown had any impact on local crime.
"With crime, it's tough to say one thing is causing it,” he said. “There are a lot of different factors that affect crime rates and we try to address those as much as we can and also educate the public on what they can do to protect themselves and help reduce crime rates."
Sioux City isn't the only local community seeing a drop in crime.
South Sioux City is also seeing a decrease in crime in many areas. When comparing the first 8 months of this year to last year, assaults went down by half from 40 reported assaults to 20 this year. Thefts and burglaries also saw a decrease.
And similar to Sioux City, calls for domestic assaults also declined.
“Domestic assaults, which a person would think if you are crammed together, they would go up,” said South Sioux City Police Chief Ed Mahon. “However, they went down from 113 (calls in 2019) to 86 (calls in 2020). The trend has been down and that was numbers from January to September 2019 compared to 2020.”
The South Sioux City Police Department tracks crime a bit differently than Sioux City, looking at cumulative numbers for the year to date rather than a month-by-month breakdown.
There were some areas in South Sioux City where crime rates did increase slightly, one being DUI's, which is the Nebraska equivalent of Sioux City's OWI.
Chief Mahon said the city has had 71 DUI's this year compared to 58 at this time last year.
"The one that is interesting, even though we are careful at keeping our traffic stops to what is important, the DUI's have gone up."
Mahon says overall, the drop in numbers has been good to see.
“I think our numbers basically have gone down, which is really a good thing no matter what causes it. Some things have gone up, but for the most part, they are down,” Chief Mahon said.
I don't have a magic ball to tell us why, but they did, and you can surmise a lot of things, but it was gratifying to see. Any time you see a decrease, it's a good thing.To view the data in its entirety for the Sioux City Police Department and South Sioux City Police Department, click here to open the document.
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SIOUX CITY, Iowa — “Right when this first started, we did have three officers come down with it. We found out about that right away.”
Police Chief Ed Mahon took the lead of the South Sioux City Police Department in May 2016. Four years later, he and his department are battling something other than crime.
South Sioux City isn’t alone.
“You just have to expect the possibility that you are going to have positive cases and be ready to deal with those in the best manner that we can.” Rex Mueller is the police chief in Sioux City. He has seen COVID-19 cases among his officers and staff, too. He even tested positive himself early on.
“Beyond the initial individuals, including myself, that diagnosed with COVID, we haven't seen any significant outbreaks or presence of the disease in our department,” Chief Mueller said.
Both departments quickly made changes in an effort to keep the virus out and keep their officers safe without impacting community safety.
“We did for a while have a mandatory mask in the building,” Chief Mahon said about South Sioux City. “If we have more than one person in a car, they always have to wear masks. Otherwise, it's been hygiene. I don't think our cars have ever been this clean.”
Officers in Sioux City also made adjustments Chief Mueller said. “We encouraged them to social distance, initiated mask policies, did everything we could to allow us to continue to interact with our public and provide positive public safety, but avoid the social contact that might lead to the spread of the disease.”
In Sioux City, with a population of over 32,000, those changes came in the form of procedure. “Well, a lot of our changes have been in relation to procedure, how we responded to calls,” Chief Mueller said. “We allowed our officers and empowered our officers to take a lot of them by phone.”
South Sioux City is also handling more complaints by phone, when necessary, to cut down on physical contact.
“If a citizen wants to call in a complaint and they are in a hurry and it takes a while to get there, it could help them as well as us,” Mahon said of the changes.
When they do respond to a call, the officers try to do as much outside as possible.
“We will ask them to come outside,” said Chief Mahon. “And it's trying to keep our exposure and our citizens' exposure to a minimum.”
In South Sioux City, Chief Mahon said his team has stepped up their sanitizing efforts, cleaning their shared patrol cars and spaces multiple times a day. “Not only for us,” Mahon said, “but for the people we are forced to put inside of them, too.”
As both departments work to keep everyone safe and COVID-19 at bay, the biggest challenge has been making sure the community doesn’t see or feel those adjustments to the procedure.
“The pandemic has caused a lot of challenges for our department, but we are still essential service providers so we could not let up on our service. We still had to respond to those calls of service and the needs of the community. But we wanted to do so safely,” said Chief Mueller “So our challenge has been, how do we provide a consistent amount of services as we did before the pandemic to our citizens while still remaining safe.”
It's a difficult balancing act. Like healthcare workers, law enforcement officers can’t do their job from home.
“We don't have the ability, if we are not feeling sick, to not come to work,” Mahon said.
Mueller agreed, “they don't have the opportunity to work from home and stay isolated, they have to be out in the public.”
Both Police Chief’s commended their officer’s response to the pandemic, saying they’ve really stepped up to ensure public safety. “They've just handled this incredibly well and continue to maintain a high level of service and do their jobs and they've been very brave about it,” said Mueller.
Overall, both Mueller and Mahon say the changes made haven't impacted the service they provide to their communities.
“Really, I am hoping that they didn't perceive much of a change,” Mueller said. “I am hoping that they perceive or see that we've tried to maintain the same services that we did, but we've just evolved those services a little bit to content with COVID-19.”
If anything, it's made each of their departments better.
“I think this is just put a new light on that and has allowed us to initiate mechanisms that would keep our folks safer in any situation like that. Not only from COVID but any community issues related to health,” Mueller said. “We've moved forward and do what we have to do to provide positive community safety.”
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SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Serving your country is a great commitment and sacrifice and the moments before deployment are normally a time for family and friends, but that wasn't the case for Sioux City's Army National Guard members.
Iowa's Army National Guard, Headquarters, 1st “Red Horse” Squadron, 113th Cavalry Regiment are heading overseas for a year-long deployment.
Sunday's send-off was different than others in the past, void of family and friends because of COVID-19.
"My mom was pretty sad," said Moville native Brady Butters. "She wished she could say one last goodbye."
"I feel excited, also feeling proud to be serving alongside these soldiers," said Captain Thanh Truong. "We wish our family and friends could be with us here today, but we know their support is still out there for us."
Nearly 100 soldiers from Sioux City's base will spend a year in Kosovo as part of the NATO mission. These soldiers, along with more than 350 Army National Guardsmen from across the state, will continue to strengthen the Iowa State Partnership Program.
"I know there are people here I can count on, day in and day out, but also, I understand that we are here for a reason, here for a purpose, and I want to continue that call to duty," said Captain Truong.
For Butters, a supply specialist, this will be his first deployment and he's excited to join the family tradition.
"My dad was in for 32 years," said. "My brother is currently in as well and is also getting deployed."
For Captain Truong, a plans officer, this Kosovo mission is his third.
"It's a bittersweet day," he said after the ceremony. "I know once we leave, it's one day closer to being back home."
These brave men and women of the 113th Cavalry Regiment are heading to Ft. Bliss, Texas for additional training before heading to Kosovo.
While family and friends were not able to be at the ceremony, it was broadcast live on social media.
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DAKOTA COUNTY, Neb. — 8:30 p.m.: Shortly after 8 p.m., after more than 3 hours of deliberations, a Dakota County jury has found 29-year-old Andres Surber guilty of murder in the 1st degree. He was also found guilty of two other felony charges of use of a firearm to commit a felony and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person.
Kubik's family, some who have been here each day, silently cried as the verdict was read.
The jury of 2 women and 10 men deliberated for roughly 3 and a half hours, after six days of trial and testimony, ending a long day of court proceedings in Dakota City, Nebraska.
Surber will be officially sentenced on November 6th.
Read the full story of the days closing arguments below.
5:30 p.m. UPDATE: "This has been compared to a movie. This is the end of the movie. You've seen all the evidence. Though you've seen one big plot twist, it shouldn't alter how you view the evidence.”
A red Dodge Charger was the center of the case against Andres Surber. After a week of testimony, his fate and future are in the hands of a jury.
29-year-old Surber faces three felony charges, including 1st-degree murder, in the death of Kraig Kubik on November 1st, 2016.
Dressed in a blue shirt and dark pants, Surber spent the day seated at the defense table, occasionally muttering to himself, a far cry from Wednesday where he took the witness stand in his own defense.
Throughout closing testimony Thursday, both the state and Surber’s defense recalled and referenced his testimony, with Surber’s attorney, Todd Lancaster, calling for a mistrial as soon as court was called into session, claiming that statements made by Surber at the time of his arrest and to which was referenced on the stand, are not admissible in court following an April 2019 ruling by a different judge.
Judge Meismer denied a mistrial.
Over a period of six days, the jury heard over a dozen witnesses and will now have more than 100 pieces of evidence to consider as they determine the fate of Surber. He faces life in prison with a 1st-degree murder conviction. The jury, though, can also find him guilty of 2nd-degree murder or manslaughter, which carries at least 20 years behind bars.
Both Lancaster and O’Brien asked the jury to use their common sense when deciding on a verdict.
“Ladies and gentlemen don’t abandon your common sense and evaluate the reasonableness of his statement when deciding if he truly acted in self-defense as he claimed,” O’Brien told the jury.
“There are a lot of things in this case that we just can’t explain,” Lancaster countered. “Not everything makes sense. People don’t always act in a rational manner.”
Surber is not disputing that he shot and killed Kubik that night, nor that he disposed of his body in a Dixon County culvert, Lancaster said, telling the jury his client’s plan to dispose of Mr. Kubik’s body was poorly done and “amateurish” Kubik’s right arm and right leg were found in the trunk of a silver Chevy Impala parked at the abandoned Surber Farm.
Surber is claiming self-defense.
“If the plan was to kill Mr. Kubik, dispose of his body and get away with it, the evidence at the scene doesn’t make sense”, Lancaster said, saying that the case is both complicated and not. “It’s not complicated in who did it. it’s complicated in what was the intent behind it.”
Kubik, seen on surveillance video coming out of his home off of Highway 35 near Emerson, Nebraska around 10:40 the night of November 1st with Surber and Bryan Galvan-Hernandez, died from a gunshot wound behind his left ear. The pair allegedly went to the home to air up a tire on a red Dodge Charger Surber had sold to Kubik and was attempting to repossess.
Surber claims Kubik pulled the gun on him and he wrestled it from him and fired a shot, claiming to not know it hit Kubik right away. He and Galvan-Hernandez, who pleaded guilty to his charges in 2017, then left Kubik, went to get the Impala, where they claim they tried to take Kubik to the hospital, but he was dead. So they went to the abandoned Surber farm. Kubik’s right arm and right leg were found in the trunk of the Impala at the farm.
"The state would suggest to you this is not a murder in self-defense,” O’Brien stated. “This has the hallmarks of premeditated murder, almost the execution of Kraig Kubik. You know what facts credible and what facts are not. And you know the right verdict.”
“What’s at issue here is the why and the how. Not the who,” Lancaster concluded. “Take all the facts, not just the trailer, not just the cover of the book, and make your case.”
Surber has pleaded not guilty to the 1st-degree murder charge, along with two other felony charges of use of a firearm to commit a felony and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person.
If the 2 women and 10 men on Surber’s jury do not come to a verdict by 9 p.m. Thursday, they will be sequestered until 9 a.m. Friday where they will begin once again.
*No Camera in Courtroom
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